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Katmai National Park

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Brown bear viewing is just one attraction within Katmai National Park: In the summer, dozens of brown bears gather at the Brooks Falls to take their pick of millions of migrating red salmon. But that’s not the reason the park was formed - “The park was created so folks could see the Valley of 10,000 Smokes,” said Ray Petersen, whose family operates the park concession at Brooks Camp. Petersen was a legendary Alaska aviator  and regarded as the father of Alaska’s sportfishing industry. Petersen died on August 12.2008 at age 96.

 

Brooks Lodge Brown Bear Viewing

In the summer, dozens of grizzlies gather at the falls to take their pick of millions of migrating red salmon. But that’s not the reason the park was formed. “The park was created so folks could see the Valley of 10,000 Smokes,” said Ray Petersen, whose family operates the park concession at Brooks Camp. Petersen was a legendary Alaska aviator — and regarded as the father of Alaska’s sportfishing industry. He died on Aug. 12 at age 96. Brooks Camp, located near Brooks Falls, serves as the hub of activity for visitors to the park. Bear viewers who come for the day leave on an early PenAir flight from Anchorage before transferring to Katmai Air for the quick floatplane ride over to Brooks Camp. While the majority of the visitors head directly to one of the two viewing platforms to watch the bears, travelers should not miss the all-day tour to the Valley of 10,000 Smokes. “The valley really illustrates the cataclysmic way that a volcano changes the face of the earth,” said Mike Fitz, a park ranger who accompanied our group to the valley.
Indeed, after the 1912 eruption, the entire valley was covered in hundreds of feet of ash and pumice. The valley was named after thousands of steam vents formed in the valley, because of water trapped under ash. There are few steam vents today, but there still are several active volcanoes in the park. Brooks Camp has a special bus for the 23-mile trip to the top of the valley. Take a quick hike to the valley floor to see the Ukak River cutting what looks like a mini Grand Canyon through the soft ash and pumice. The other big attraction at Katmai National Park is the fishing. At Brooks Camp, you can walk the entire length of the Brooks River, fishing for rainbow trout. Travelers can rent fishing gear on-site. Guests can also hire a fishing guide to wet a line on nearby streams, including Margot Creek.

“We have kayaks and canoes available for rent — plus we offer meals at the lodge,” said lodge manager Jim Albert. There are cabins at Brooks, but they tend to fill up quickly. “You almost have to reserve the cabins a year in advance,” he said. Albert encourages adventurers to rent a kayak or canoe to paddle over to a park cabin across the lake. “It’s free — and you can fish for a couple of days before portaging over to Colville Lake and returning via the Savonovski River. It’s a 70-mile trip,” he said. The campground is a great option, especially since it’s just $8 per night and features covered eating areas and an electric fence to keep the bears out. Day-trippers should budget about $600 to fly from Anchorage right to Brooks Camp. The cost includes the entry fee into the park. Another option is to use your Alaska Airlines miles to fly to King Salmon, then pay $184 roundtrip for the floatplane ride up to Brooks Camp. The all-day tour of the Valley of 10,000 Smokes is $96. There’s still time to plan a trip to Katmai National Park, since September is a peak month for fishing and bear viewing. Remember to set aside a day for your trip to the Valley of 10,000 Smokes — the reason for the park in the first place!